Monday, December 29, 2008

And you will know us by the dice in our hands…

I don’t talk about being a role-playing enthusiast outside of this blog and the circle of my friends who also indulge in this pastime. This holiday season reminded me of how uncomfortable I am talking about this hobby that I love with people not counted amongst the choir. As I moved through the social events of the past week, often finding myself in conversation with my extended family by marriage, I talked and chatted and joked as I am wont to, but not once did I mention the fact that I enjoy rolling oddly-shaped polyhedrals and pretending that I’m somebody else from time to time. It’s just not something that I can do.

I’m quite sure that I’m not alone in this reticence to speak of my gaming habits. Many other people find that it’s easier to gloss over this hobby of ours for reasons as varied as the games that we play. A lot of the older gamers remember the bad times of the 1980s. A time when the moral majority of America decided that D&D was the latest tool of the debbil to corrupt the souls of youth. Other gamers seek to keep their connection quiet to avoid being branded with the stereotype of the socially inept gamer dude. Still others of us have just grown tired of trying to justify their continued participation in a “childish pastime.” Some, such as me, remain silent for all of the above reasons.

This hobby is, and always shall remain, a niche activity. Despite a brief period of faddism that occurred in the 1980s, unfortunately accompanied by the anti-rpg witch hunt of that time, role-playing games are never going to be embrace by the public majority as an acceptable way to recreate. Similar pursuits, such as MMORPGs, have somehow managed to garner more public acceptance, but those of us strange enough to pretend we’re someone else without either a computer or a stage to prop us up will always encounter odd stares when we talk about these games. And that’s a damn shame.

I’m not going to indulge in cataloging all the positive things that this hobby has taught me. Others have done so in much better fashion than I possible could, and if you’re reading these words, you already know them yourself. I’m not going to point fingers at other recreational activities that do more damage to homes; families and livelihoods than role-playing games ever could, and yet still remain more socially acceptable to the public. I’m not even going to try and attempt to offer a solution to the ostracism that this hobby engenders. I simply don’t have one.

I know that my unwillingness to speak of my participation in this pastime does not make things better. That silence is compliance, and to do nothing to make things better is to accept the status quo. But, quite frankly, I’m too tired to swim against the tide and punditry has never been of much interest to me. So what’s a poor, recently-returned gamer to do?

It seems that my only option is to keep quietly guarding the flame. To continue to give back to the hobby that has brought me much joy. To instill in the next generation the pleasures of using one’s imagination as an escape from the sometimes cruel realities of modern life. To try and live my life as a reminder that, while we all have to grow old, we don’t always have to completely grow up.

That’s my real gaming resolution for the coming year. All of the ones that I mentioned last week are merely part and parcel to a greater goal. To all of you out there currently doing the same, I salute you. Every one of you who is currently blogging about this hobby, writing your own adventures and crazy-go-bananas homebrew rule systems, submitting articles to the professional publications and fanzines, taking time to teach your kids and significant others the fun of tossing dice and moving little plastic guys around a map, or just getting together with friends to occasionally share in this pastime, is feeding a little more tinder into the fire that’s been burning since 1974. I don’t care what game you’re playing, or even if your preferred edition jives with my own. The simple fact that you’re out there doing so is enough for me to gladly count you amongst the keepers of the flame.

Just don’t ask me to do it in public…


Chris said...

Amen Mike. I know what you mean about guarding the flame in secret. We Hidden Brethren of the Polyhedral tend our private gardens while the world of pop culture turns to auto-cannibalistic chaos around us.

A Happy and Prosperous New Year to you and yours.

PS: Ya know, 'Old Nameless' is a perfectly good name for a megadungeon in and of itself.

Gamer Dude said...

Hi Mike. Well put. I have, on occasion, let it slip to others that I "game". And more often than not I find myself on the defensive. That, by far, is the one reason that I try and keep it under a lid.

On the other hand, I'm not sure I should really "care" what others think. It's not their cup of tea and that's fine. I doubt that they expect me to hold the same amount of interest in cropping, stock car racing or horses... Well, at least I'd hope not.

One of the things that simply amazes me, on the topic of MMORPGs, is that it now has enough public momentum to both have a personage of such wild renown as Ozzy Osborne act as a TV spokesperson...AND to steamroll any of that nasty backlash that we saw in the 80's with DnD. Ah, if only DnD had the luxury of the internet at the time of its inception. But then maybe not...who knows?

Ah, the "childish pastime" adage, yeah, that one throws me for a loop. I've never understood the attraction of "growing up" and calcifying. It seems that you loose a good portion of that wonder that fuels the discovery. To paraphrase a line in the movie 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button': "You're so young..", "Only on the outside." I would argue that it's exactly the opposite with us. ;-)

Happy Holidays!

Michael Curtis said...

@Chris: To you as well. As for "Ol' Nameless" being the title for the dungeon, trust me. I've considered it. But then I remembered that the Forgotten Realms has a delve somewhere in the North called "The Nameless Dungeon." While I'm not above outright theft from inspirational sources, I think the FR is a bit too well known to escape with that bit of burglary unnoticed.

Michael Curtis said...

@Gamer Dude: It's for the defensive stance that I generally keep quiet as well. I got very, very tired of trying to defend the game to other people a long time ago. Doing so takes away from my ability to embrace it as a recreational activity.

Like you, I don't really care that what people think about my choice of hobby, but I find people accept the fact that I like playing these games after they get a chance to know me personally first, then discover I'm a gamer rather than the other way around.

As for the MMORPG phenom, I agree. The internet and a much greater acceptance of video and computer gaming have given on-line rpgs a better rep than D&D managed to build in the pre-intertubes era. We can ride some of that goodwill, but we still seem like luddites because we prefer pen and paper and dice over graphic cards, Ventrilo, and monthly subscription fees.

Sham aka Dave said...

Great post, Mike. You nailed it and I share the same sentiments. I had good reason to from the early days on, and the memories of hiding from the photo of the After-School D&D club for the yearbook will always be with me. I remember classmates dumbfounded when they learned I was a player..."YOU play D&D!?!"

I was always something of a social chameleon. I've never been one to trumpet my tastes and interests in public.

I resepct those that don't have similar hang-ups, and are loud and proud about their pastimes; but that's just not my style. Unfortunately it leads to me not having a larger circle of D&D friends. Thank you internet for my pixelated-pals!

Christopher B said...

You said it better than I ever could have, Mike. I keep silent about my hobby for each and every one of the reasons you mentioned.

A perfect example occurred not too long ago when my boss, looking at my personal e-mail address, got curious about the domain name and went to check it out. (I was, at the time, publishing indy minis rules as Game Werks.) Instead of comments like "That's interesting" or "What's this all about?" I got "I didn't know you were into that sort of thing. Do you play Dungeons and Dragons too?" Said perfectly innocently on his part, mind you, but in that tone I know all too well; not said maliciously, but it left me uncomfortable nonetheless.

I was then put in the position we all loathe: trying to explain your hobby to someone who obviously doesn't get it, and has already shown a certain amount of disdain. (What gets me is this is a guy who loves old school sci-fi and is the Director of IT. He's a geek - but not a gamer. I see that stereotype everywhere, but in 15 years in the IT/Web field, I've only met one other gamer geek. Where are they all?!)

Anyway, kudos to you for hitting the nail on the head. Like you, I'll keep silently holding the flame, sharing knowing glances with those who wear the gamer badge and give the secret handshake. (Hey, cool - do we have one of those? If not, we should get one!)

David Larkins said...

Right there with you and the other commenters. I got into gaming just as the Satanic Panic was dying down, so thankfully I never had to deal with teachers trying to burn my books or anything (although I had to promise my mom I wouldn't commit suicide if I got into D&D), and in fact it sort of fed into my adolescent rebelliousness in the same way that listening to GnR did...but when I found out later on that gaming was also a social liability ("You mean this is going to make it harder for me to get girls?"), that really chapped my hide and drove me underground.

Nowadays, I keep quiet as much out of just not wanting to deal with it all, as you said. What really gets my goat is when I catch flack from non-gamer geek friends, who seem to think that being into comics instead of RPGs gives them more geek cred or whatever. There's a chart on the Internet that illustrates the geek hierarchy perfectly.

I can take solace in the fact that, despite my quiet devotion to gaming, I've introduced, directly or indirectly, no less then a half dozen people to the hobby, the majority of whom still game today.

JimLotFP said...

Sometime very early I realized I was just going to be a social pariah, and that was before gaming even came along. Yeah... I was hopeless *before* age 9, so once I started gaming, the whole deal of being made to feel I was abnormal was just... normal.

Then I discovered death metal in 1992 (after high school, and just when metal as a whole was being removed from mainstream acceptability, natch) and I learned that my outcast state didn't just have to make me a "victim;" it could be used as a weapon as well.

Which didn't help me at all socially, but did improve my confidence, which eventually did help me socially. Funny how that worked. One too many experiences being with "polite company" made me realize that "fitting in" was a horrible idea; I was more comfortable on the outside.

So there I am, taking my metal zine to job interviews, explaining that work isn't so important in my life, that I'm going to show up and do my job because it pays the rent, while I get my personal fulfillment elsewhere. So here I am, bringing game books out on first dates because I'm testing their suitability instead of sitting back and waiting to be judged on whatever criteria this person has.

Yet I've never failed to get a job that I've interviewed for (getting an interview in the first place - that's the rough part). The first date I had when I spent a fair deal of time complaining about the Carcosa controversy? I live with that person now and she makes dice bags and silk binder covers for me now.

I'm not sure exactly why I'm sharing this (yeah, I'm awful at commiserating...), as I'm probably the last person someone should look at when they're looking for a role model... but at the same time when reading posts like this (and their responses) there is sadness and weariness in the stories you guys are telling.

It also gets me thinking about what life would have been like if I'd kept on the straight and narrow instead of heading off the rails right after graduating high school. Things could have been very different. Much easier, maybe.

Then I just turn my head to the left here, looking out the window on a bit of the Helsinki waterfront, realizing that every time I go outside I am amazed by the city that I live in. I think about the long string of decisions that somehow led to me being right here in this situation right now... and despite the hell I've had to live through at times because of those decisions, and realizing that nothing lasts forever anyway, I can't in any way call this a bad life. I wouldn't change a thing, because you never know what minute decision unknowingly sends your life off into an entirely different direction...

Michael Curtis said...


The word that sticks out the most to me in your comment is "weariness". I think that sums up the reason why I keep mum about my paticipation in this hobby.

I'm not concerned so much about trying to appear "normal" in the eyes of others, especially people that I hardly know. Hell, I spent two years of my life fronting a hardcore band, where making a fool out of myself in public and sporting funny haircuts is par for the course. And while I may appear a bit more straight-laced nowadays, sometimes even appearing as a steretypical librarian, the thoughts and drives that propelled me in my younger days are still there. Age has taught me some wisdom, so I've become more careful in choosing my battles and deciding where I want to expend my energies pertaining to my beliefs. I've decided that I'd rather conserve my energy for battles more important than trying to sway someone's opinion in role-playing games, so I keep my mouth shut about them. This hobby is suposed to be my escape, not my battleground.

I was rather hoping that you'd chime in about this topic. Foregive me for forming an opinion of you based solely on your blog, but you strike me as someone who revels in confrontation. And I don't mean that as an insult. I'm glad that there are people out there such as yourself who have the personality and energy to keep brandishing their love for gaming in the faces of the masses. The hobby needs people like that, and I'm too tired and lack the incentive to do so myself. Keep doing what you're doing and I'll keep the fire going in my own way.